No children should go hungry this summer as the Umatilla School District hosts a free summer lunch program open to anyone 18 or younger.
Funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered by the state, the program provides a hot meal for all children and one supervising adult per family. Additional adults who attend with their children can purchase a meal for $1.
"It's good for families to eat together," Child Nutrition Director Guy Jager said Monday. "When you have a mother bring five or seven kids, we want to make sure that mom gets to eat well too. We're doing this because we know, especially in our community, that we've been hard hit by the economic situation."
A non-profit program, district staff began serving lunches June 21 and have seen steadily increasing attendance, surpassing expectations by more than 100 children.
"We have run out of food at some sites, and I run back to the elementary school, restock and redeliver," Jager said. "The first day we had six to eight kids at each site. The next day it started growing. The next day there were 21, 48 the next. Word of mouth means a lot to us."
The program runs Monday through Friday and features yogurt, a vegetarian item, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a hot entree each day, such as hamburgers, hot dogs or chicken nuggets.
"It's mostly foods that kids enjoy," Jager said. "Plus, we're getting a lot of kids that are 1 to 4 years old, so the yogurt and PBJs usually meet their needs."
This is the seventh year the district has offered some sort of summer food program, typically tying the meals to the district's migrant summer school.
"Usually we offer meals at the summer school, but as money's gotten tighter, we decided to strike out on our own," he said, adding the program is serving 200 children and 30-50 adults a day. "We usually serve 250 children with the summer school, so I'm very, very happy with what we're doing."
During the school year, the district serves a no-charge breakfast program at each of the schools, as well as lunch and a supper meal for children in the after-school program.
"We stay busy year-round. We try to put out as many meals to kids as we can," Jager said. "Essentially if a child was participating in our after-school program, they have access to three meals a day."
The Umatilla School District summer lunch program is available Monday through Friday at three sites: from 10:30 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. at Marina Park, from 10:30 a.m. to noon at McNary Heights Elementary and from 11:15 a.m. to noon at Clara Brownell Middle School.
"We're open to all children 18 years and younger," Jager said, "no matter what community they come from."